Pinch Me!

alain_at_stove.jpgIt is Sunday late morning, the North wind is howling outside and the rain has changed to half inch hail but the farmhouse walls are more than two feet thick and we are very cozy. We hear nothing, just the sounds of the wood fire crackling, a knife on the cutting board and two friends engaged in a lively conversation catching up on many things since our last visit. We are sitting at a 8 foot long chestnut kitchen table boning out the leg of a wild boar, removing sinew, fat glands and chipped bones from the bullet wound. Alain has told all his neighbors of our visit and one has shot a wild boar for the occasion and foraged for black truffles. It was long decided before the boar was cold that we would make a daube just like his mother made for him in his child hood home in Avignon and it will marinate today and simmer over a wood fire all afternoon tomorrow. Tonight we are having raclette with charcuterie for dinner that they brought home from their skiing vacation in the Alps. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon!

Almost everything that Alain's wife and children eat they raise and if they don't produce it a neighbor does, food gets exchanged. They raise chickens and ducks, rabbits and even have a trout pond. They have 15 different varieties of apples, a collection of nut trees, kiwi, figs, pears, persimmons, table grapes, peaches, white, sour and red cherries and a lonely single apricot tree. A rustic homemade greenhouse filled with several varieties of salad green poised for the plucking. An oversized olive tree, a potted lime tree and herb plants that have grown as big as shrubs. They live on a mountain, an eight mile drive up a very narrow, one small european car wide, road. The hillside is covered with several varieties of chestnut trees, oaks, ferns and boulders bigger then our car. The sound of water falling is always heard around each corner and the smell of wet moss and herbaceous ground fauna is intoxicating.

farmhouse.jpgWe are lucky enough to be in the Cervenne mountains in the Southwest of France, visiting our french friends who live in a 250 year old stone farmhouse, for the first time and I think this is the most silent place that I have every been in my life and I like it. As we clean the wild boar meat it gets chunked into 2 inches cubes then tossed into a oversized antique bowl, when all is done with we will have about 5 pound of meat cubes. Alain runs down to his cellar and brings up two dusty bottles of red wine produced from a neighbor's small vineyard and some onions from last fall. He pops both corks and pours until the meat is completely covered with the fragrant dark purple liquid. We peel and chunk the super sweet Cervenne onions, piercing them with a few cloves, count out a small handful of juniper berries from the woods and toss all into  the wine covered meat chucks. A half dozen carrots fresh from the garden are added next to the bowl, after being peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces. On our way back up the terraced hillside from digging the carrots we stopped to cut a branch of thyme, rosemary and some bay leaves. We bruise the herbs in our hanwild_boar.jpgds before adding this final ingredient to our daube and give the whole mass a gently stir so everything is equally distributed. Off to the stone pantry attached to the main house to marinate and tenderize for the rest of the afternoon and all night.

Tomorrow we will build a small fire in the stove and simmer the daube slowly all day while we go to a wine exposition an hour south of our tiny hamlet. The wind is still blowing and it is raining very hard as we return to the farm, lifting the ancient latch of the heavy wooden door the smell is overwhelming, perfuming the whole house. Alain and I lift the cover of the pot and add a bit more liquid in the form of stock that we made with the boar's bones and he stirs in two handfuls of dried black trumpet mushrooms that he collected last Fall. The wine covered meat has transformed into a thick, gelatinous, shiny stew with an incredible aroma of the terrior.

Alain always has a plan, next we must make pasta dough that he will roll out into wide noodles and the dough needs to rest.  We make a standard dough but add finely minced fresh thyme to give it compatibility with the stew. The dough is an intense yellow from the eggs that we gathered from under the clucking chickens, oh, the anticipation and excitement is building and it smells better by the moment.

salad.jpgThe kids, Manon and Hugo make their way into the kitchen on cue as the finished scent of our daube makes its way across the house, up the old wooden stairs and into their bedrooms where they are studying. One child gets the bright blue tablecloth and dishes, the other one gets flatware, napkins and wineglasses in the time it takes for the pasta water to comes to a boil. Alain quickly drops the freshly rolled wide noodles into the fleur de sel flavored water, and then grabs his largest platter that will cradle this bountiful feast.

As we work quickly draining and plating the feast, the neighbor, Joel, the confiture maker, arrives with his teenage daughter to join us for dinner. Joel quickly kisses everyone and helps carry the large steaming platters and bowls to the table.  The table is quickly covered end to end with food: a wooden tray of three cheeses from their neighbors on the mountain, this morning's baguette from the tiny village at the bottom of the mountain, an olive wood bowl filled with their own greenhouse lettuce sauced with a robust anchovy-garlic vinaigrette, the wild boar daube surrounded by the most beautiful yellow colored noodles tossed alain.jpgwith a combination of local unsalted butter and fresh pressed local olive oil. Plates and wine glasses are excitedly filled, then silence as everyone takes those first few bites, slowly the conversations resume as the volume increases we fill our heart, soul and stomach with lovingly created food and the best friends in the world!


Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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